“If those in power, wherever we are, whichever country but also at whatever level in society that we are leaders, began working together—we would eliminate abject poverty and ensure that poverty becomes history in twenty years from now. It’s a moral duty of any of us as human beings.”

—José Ramos-Horta

Champions of Human Rights
José Ramos-Horta (b. 1949)

President of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Laureate José Ramos-Horta has spent most of his adult life fighting for freedom from oppression for his homeland. When he was 18, Ramos-Horta was exiled from Timor-Leste—then a Portuguese colony under a military dictatorship—to Mozambique for his outspoken criticism of the government’s failure to deal with underdevelopment and widespread poverty. He later returned briefly to Timor-Leste, but was exiled once again from 1970 to 1971 for speaking out against Portuguese military rule.

In 1974, Timor-Leste declared its independence from Portugal, followed shortly thereafter by an invasion from Indonesia, beginning another brutal occupation. Having left Timor-Leste three days before the invasion, Ramos-Horta, then age 25, spent the next twenty-four years in exile, bringing the plight of Timor-Leste to the attention of the world.

He became the youngest person to address the United Nations, and convinced UN representatives to pass a resolution supporting the independence of Timor-Leste. Despite this victory, Indonesia continued its occupation, and so he persisted in urging the UN and other world leaders to convince Indonesia to grant Timor-Leste its freedom. In 1996, along with his fellow countryman, Bishop Ximenes Belo, Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Largely through Ramos-Horta’s efforts, in 2002 Timor-Leste did ultimately win its independence, and in 2006 he was appointed the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, and then elected its President in 2007.